In a rash of announcements at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, BlackBerry gave some indications on Tuesday of its way forward. The announcements include a touchscreen smartphone for emerging markets, a new model with a classic QWERTY keyboard, a new version of the BlackBerry Enterprise platform and an enterprise version of BlackBerry Messenger.
The Z3 is a new BlackBerry OS 10-based smartphone, targeted at Indonesian customers and manufactured by Taiwan-based Foxconn -- the first from that partnership. It features a 5-inch screen, 3G, local apps and Indonesian content. The company's BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service is very popular in that country, and a roll-out through other parts of Asia is planned.
Ramon Llamas, research analyst for industry research firm IDC, told us that the Z3 demonstrates two directions for the company -- "it is still in the hardware game," and it is committed to emerging markets, where the big growth in smartphones is occurring.
The new Q20 has a QWERTY keyboard with frets and sculpted keys, an integrated trackpad, a 3.5-inch screen, and "classic" Menu, Back, Send and End buttons. The model gives "the distinct experience that every BlackBerry QWERTY loyalist and high-productivity business customer absolutely loves," CEO John Chen said in a statement.
The Z3 will be available in April in Indonesia, and the Q20 will be released for more markets in the second half of this year. The company has not released pricing for either model, although Chen has said he expects the Z3 to be priced under $200.
Llamas pointed to IDC research showing that about a third of the smartphones released worldwide last year were under $150, not to mention recent bottom-defining announcements like the Mozilla Foundation's intention to launch a $25 smartphone in emerging markets.
"The high end of the market is saturated," he said.
Ross Rubin, principal analyst with Reticle Research, said the Q20 "manifests Chen's promise to bring down the cost of phone production by outsourcing." He also pointed to the easier ability to access and run Android apps in the updated BlackBerry OS as a potential boost to the company's devices.
New BES 12
The Canadian company also announced this week the next generation of its mobility management solution, BlackBerry Enterprise Server platform, BES 12. It unifies BES 10 and BES5 into one platform, offers enhanced user self-service, and adds support for Windows Phone 8 devices beyond its current support of BB10, Android and iOS.
A new EZ Pass program is intended to provide a free migration path from BES and other mobile device management platforms to BES10, by matching licenses and offering free Advantage-level tech support.
Building on its hugely popular BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service, the company is also announcing a new family of products and services, eBBM, to provide enterprise-class mobile messaging.
The first release is BBM Protected, which the company said will provide for regulated industries "the most secure and reliable real-time mobile messaging in the industry." The company also announced BBM will be available for devices using Windows Phone and the new Nokia X platforms.